Daily Media Links 4/21: Politifact: Is IRS Obama’s Watergate?, LA Times: Conservative heavyweights have solar industry in their sights, LA Times: Lying is free speech too, and more…

April 21, 2014   •  By Kelsey Drapkin   •  
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In the News

Wall Street Journal: Opinion: California’s Assault on Free Speech

Center for Competitive Politics senior fellow Eric Wang on a lawsuit to stop California Attorney General Kamala Harris from demanding confidential nonprofit donor records. Photo: Getty Images 



Politifact: Is IRS Obama’s Watergate?

By Katie Sanders

“I didn’t see him saying that at all,” said David Keating, president of the conservative-leaning Center for Competitive Politics. “All I got out of it was there is no investigation on this.” (By that, he said he means no serious, visible effort to get to the bottom of things on the part of the administration.)

“It’s not really a fact to be judged true or false whether this is as big as Watergate or not,” said Ilya Shapiro, Cato Institute senior fellow in constitutional studies.

The larger point is there remain many unanswered questions about the scandal, Shapiro said. Absent a direct order from the White House, Obama created a climate of “inflammatory rhetoric” in calling out tea party groups, shadow money organizations and super PACs during his campaign, which “sort of gives a wink and a nod to people who might be sympathetic to the president already, in terms of their personal politics, to do certain things,” he said

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State Aggregate Limits and Proportional Bans under McCutcheon

By Matt Nese

–       Nine states – Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming – and the District of Columbia impose aggregate limits in some form on the overall amount individuals may contribute to the candidates and causes of their choice. These limits appear to be unconstitutional, according to the precedent set in McCutcheon.

–       Another nine states – Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, and Tennessee – impose other forms of limits that operate in a similar fashion to an aggregate limit, leaving them highly vulnerable to a legal challenge, according to the reasoning in the McCutcheon decision. In an illustration of the overwhelming complexity of campaign finance laws, these other limits fall into seven categories:  (1) “First Come, First Served” Limits; (2) Aggregate Limits on Recipient Candidates (Party Version); (3) Aggregate Limits on Recipient Candidates (PAC Version); (4) Proportional Bans; (5) Non-Resident Aggregate Limits on Candidates, Parties, or PACs; (6) Aggregate Limits on PAC Donations; and (7) Aggregate Limits on Corporate or Union Donations.

–       Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon, the aggregate limit statutes in nine states and D.C., in particular, appear to be unconstitutional. However, because of the nature of the regulations in the states with proportional limits, those statutes too face an uncertain future. Massachusetts and Maryland’s election law enforcement agencies have already announced that they will no longer enforce their aggregate limits, and some or all of Minnesota and Wisconsin’s provisions are currently being challenged in court.

–       Three key aspects of the McCutcheon opinion render many of the different forms of aggregate limits harder for states to defend from a challenge in court:  (1) the Court appeared to significantly narrow the basis for regulation of contribution limits; (2) McCutcheon clarified that even contribution limits are subject to a high level of constitutional scrutiny; and (3) other language in the Court’s opinion makes it difficult for states to defend aggregate or proportional limits.

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Independent Groups


LA Times: Conservative heavyweights have solar industry in their sights

By Evan Halper

WASHINGTON — The political attack ad that ran recently in Arizona had some familiar hallmarks of the genre, including a greedy villain who hogged sweets for himself and made children cry.

But the bad guy, in this case, wasn’t a fat-cat lobbyist or someone’s political opponent.

He was a solar-energy consumer.

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Wall Street Journal: Courts Should Stay Out of Political Fact-Checking


The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on April 22 in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a case raising important constitutional questions about laws that purport to prohibit “false” political statements. At least 15 states, including Ohio—where this case originated—have such laws on the books, often carrying criminal penalties.  

Some reporters have called this a lawsuit about the “right to lie.” That is a tendentious and inaccurate depiction of what the case involves. The issue is not whether campaigns should lie. Of course they should not. Rather, the question is who should decide whether a political campaign advertisement is true—courts, wielding the power to impose fines or imprisonment, or the American people, wielding the power to elect or turf the competing candidate. The stakes for free speech and the democratic process are very high.  

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LA Times: Money won’t buy you votes: Loosening constraints on campaign donations and spending doesn’t destroy democracy.

By Peter H. Schuck

Campaign finance reformers are worried about the future. They contend that two Supreme Court rulings — the McCutcheon decision in March and the 2010 Citizens United decision — will magnify inequality in U.S. politics.

In both cases, the court majority relaxed constraints on how money can be spent on or donated to political campaigns. By allowing more private money to flow to campaigns, the critics maintain, the court has allowed the rich an unfair advantage in shaping political outcomes and made “one dollar, one vote” (in one formulation) the measure of our corrupted democracy.

This argument misses the mark for at least four reasons.

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LA Times: Lying is free speech too


Does the 1st Amendment allow states to make it a criminal offense to disseminate false statements about a political candidate? Should citizens who fear that their free speech will be chilled by such a law be permitted to challenge it even if they aren’t in danger of imminent prosecution?

Only the second question will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, but it is inextricably linked to the first one. If the court rules that the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group, may not challenge Ohio’s criminalization of false political speech, that law and similar ones in other states will remain on the books.

Ohio’s law prohibits false statements about a candidate if they are made knowingly or with reckless disregard of whether they might be false. If the Ohio Elections Commission decides the law was violated, it “shall refer” the matter to prosecutors.

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National Review: The Zealots Win Again

By Charles Krauthammer

A different era, a different set of dissidents. But the naming of names, the listing of lists, goes on. The enforcers are at it again, this time armed with sortable Internet donor lists.

The ultimate victim here is full disclosure itself. If revealing your views opens you to the politics of personal destruction, then transparency, however valuable, must give way to the ultimate core political good, free expression.

Our collective loss. Coupling unlimited donations and full disclosure was a reasonable way to reconcile the irreconcilables of campaign finance. Like so much else in our politics, however, it has been ruined by zealots. What a pity.

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

Huffington Post: Who Are the Koch Brothers and What Do They Want?

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires and large corporations can now spend an unlimited amount of money to influence the political process. The results of that decision are clear. In the coming months and years the Koch brothers and other extraordinarily wealthy families will spend billions of dollars to elect right-wing candidates to the Senate, the House, governors’ mansions and the presidency of the United States. These billionaires already own much of our economy. That, apparently, is not enough. Now, they want to own the United States government as well.  

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State and Local

California –– LA Times: Ethics commission wants more public funding available to candidates

By Soumya Karlamangla

Los Angeles’ Ethics Commission is calling for an increase in public funding available to candidates seeking city office.

The city currently provides $2 for each dollar a candidate raises in primary elections, and $4 for each dollar contributed in two-way runoffs in general elections.

On Thursday, the panel recommended the city match be increased to $6 in both primary and general elections.

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Kelsey Drapkin

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